I've heard many textbook definitions of what mindfulness is and what it isn't. I'm not sure I like any of them that well or that they explain what mindfulness is that clearly. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the field of mindfulness training, states that "mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally." And I do agree with this but maybe it could be clearer. Examples and non-examples do a great job of clarifying something like mindfulness so here goes. I'll share a bit about my experiences with mindfulness.
My husband and I have five apartments that we own and manage and since my husband has the full-time career, I usually do the work involved with managing them. I'm not great at fixing up things but I do OK at some things. A nice couple was moving in to our two-bedroom apartment in a few weeks and I had a few small things to do while I managed the paint job and putting in new carpet, etc. While the painter was there, I thought I could install a new wireless door bell. It's not difficult but I hadn't picked up a power drill in at least a year.
I was in a hurry and just wanted to get it done before the appliance repair person showed up. (Mistake #1 - not giving yourself enough time to complete the task.) I have the back of the button that you push for the door bell and I need to screw it into the wall outside the front door. I get one screw in and then the second one is giving me problems. I get mad. I am not breathing. I just want to get this done. I jam the drill in the remaining screw and pull the trigger to turn the drill on full power. (Obviously, the second mistake - not remaining calm).
Within a half a second, I have stripped the screw and bent it at a 30 degree angle. Smoke is literally coming out of the drill as I pushed it so hard. And then...and then I reach out with my pointer finger and touch the top of the screw I just stripped. The screw was still smoking hot and burns a perfect circle into the pad of my pointer finger. OUCH! (I wrote about this in terms of intention in the blog post called Superhero Trio.) That is what happens when you are not being mindful. I was not focused. I was not breathing. I was definitely NOT in the present moment. I was thinking about all the other things I had to get done and that the appliance guy was on his way and how I needed to get this done right away, etc. I was not paying attention to what I was doing or where my energy was. This is your non-example.
A week later, it was the day before this couple was supposed to move in. Due to some crazy circumstances and miscommunication, I was left to install five sets of new blinds, clean up the apartment, and take out all the trash by myself. I knew this was an opportunity for me to practice mindfulness in action. I did not want to get hurt and I had to finish all these items in about four hours. I knew it was possible. I made sure I had all the right tools and brought my lunch and water to keep my energy up. I also brought my puppy because I didn't want to leave him home all day plus he does a great job of keeping me company.
So, I already set myself up for success in terms of keeping my energy up which I believe is a crucial aspect of mindfulness. If my energy dips, I lose focus. I made sure to take care of my physical needs for the time I would be spending there with food, drink, a chair, and access to a restroom. I brought the right tools and had everything I needed to complete the tasks. I also brought music to listen to so I could keep my energy up and make it a fun environment.
I took a deep breath and let it out relaxing my shoulders and preparing to go slow and steady through these sets of blinds. I chose my first set and began the steps needed to complete it. Each movement was slow and deliberate. I moved the ladder and made sure it was stable. I grabbed the tools I needed and put screws in my pockets and thought about each move before I did it. I breathed into each step and laid the power drill (yes, the same one I used before when I burned my finger) very carefully on the top of the ladder each time I put it down. I made sure to take it down from the ladder each time so it wouldn't just fall on the hundred year old wood floor or break the window if I bumped the ladder.
When I was tired, I sat down on the chair and and loved on my dog for awhile. I drank some water. I took some breaths and relaxed my body. I would tell myself I was doing a great job. I admired my work. It was a dance--a dance of mindful thoughts, words, and actions to move forward slowly but surely.
Then I would get back up and do the next set of blinds. After two sets of blinds, I ate my lunch. After three sets of blinds, I texted a picture of my good work to my husband for some positive feedback. It was a complete exercise in mindfulness. I kept my cool. When I had a problem, I stopped. I thought about it patiently. I checked with my intuition. I breathed. When I found a solution I thought would work, I patiently began to work on it and to my relief, it worked. I continued slowly, deliberately, and breathed in and out with focus and mindfulness.
The work hours went by quickly and even though I was very tired and a bit sweaty, I was mentally still very focused and balanced. I almost finished everything. I still had one set of blinds to pick up at the home improvement store but I had to pick up my son at school as well. So, I breathed into the situation and calmed myself down. I looked for a solution and decided I would ask for help. This is also an important thing to be able to do. I had done well but was too tired to keep going at this point.
So, I decided to get my son from school, take a break at home, and then ask my husband to come back with me later to finish. I could have decided to muscle through and tough it out by picking up my son and coming right back to finish but I knew that the work would not be mindful anymore. If I had continued, I might have gotten hurt or made mistakes that would cost more time and money. I was done at that moment and needed a break so I wisely didn't go back right away.
I came back a few hours later with my husband and we finished it up in 45 minutes, together. I was so glad I did because that last set of blinds was a bit of a challenge and I would not have had the energy to complete it by myself. I was very wise to ask for help.
The next day, the couple happily moved and I was proud because the apartment looked fabulous and I was not mentally or physically drained. I had taken care of myself and my energy. I had no resentment built up because I had to work so hard the day before. I felt good and because my energy was good, the couple felt that and were extremely happy to move into this wonderful apartment full of good energy.
I hope reading about this example helps make the concept of mindfulness a little clearer and easier to understand. I used mindfulness to flow through my day, make good decisions, and get a heck of a lot of work done quickly and well. I made no mistakes. I didn't make any extra work for myself either. It was efficient and actually enjoyable.
So, back to the definition of mindfulness that I wrote about at the beginning of this post. If I had to define mindfulness, I might say it's "Engaging in deliberate present moment thoughts, words, and actions in a focused, calm manner while being aware of one's own breathing, energy, and positive self-talk in order to achieve forward movement." Being aware of one's own energy means you are practicing self-care. Engaging in positive self-talk means you are practicing self-compassion. And living in this way means you are practicing self-love. These are three important aspects of mindfulness.
I encourage you to try doing a small task in this mindful manner and see what happens for you. Dance with focused and deliberate present moment thoughts, words, and actions. I know for me, dancing with mindfulness as my partner kept me from hurting myself, wasting time, and making mistakes. Instead, I found I could get a lot more done and do it in a pleasurable manner that was also efficient. I'll take that any day. Dance on!